Several changes to NIH animal research policies

On Dec. 1, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare announced that the National Institutes of Health would be adopting the eighth edition of the “Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals” effective Jan. 1. The Guide establishes the agency’s policies for the humane use of animals at institutions that receive NIH funding.

Many in the research community questioned the implementation of the Guide, including the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. ASBMB co-signed a letter from FASEB that addressed the cost and scientific merit of the proposed changes and urged their delayed implementation. In response to these concerns, the NIH is giving institutions more time to implement the new changes. While institutions are required to conduct one semiannual review and inspection using the new Guide standards within the year, all changes are not required to be enacted by that time. Based on the inspection, institutions will need to generate an implementation plan by Dec. 31, 2012.

To aid in the implementation process, the OLAW has developed several position statements that describe the ways in which NIH expects institutions to implement the guidelines. The position statements address:

  • cost of implementing the new guidelines
  • animal housing specifications
  • use of non-pharmaceutical grade compounds
  • food and fluid restrictions
  • multiple surgical procedures
  • application of the guidelines to agricultural animals used in biomedical research

The public is encouraged to comment about their understanding of the position statements here by Jan. 29.

In addition to the changes in animal care regulations, a recent study by the Institute of Medicine will have profound effects on federally-funded chimpanzee research. On Dec. 15, the IOM released its report titled “Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research: Assessing the Necessity” which found that most current uses of chimpanzees for biomedical research are “unnecessary.”

The IOM report recommended that the NIH limit funding to only studies

  • for which there is no other suitable model available
  • that cannot be performed ethically in humans
  • that, without which, important advancements will be significantly slowed or prevented

Soon after IOM the report was issued, NIH Director Francis Collins, announced he accepted the recommendations and would move to implement them as soon as possible. The NIH already is developing a plan to implement the recommendations, which will include a more rigorous review of NIH-funded chimpanzee research. Also, no new grant applications involving research on chimpanzees will be considered until further notice. While the changes apply to only NIH-funded chimpanzee research, many feel private research likely will adopt similar standards.

Read additional reports on the changes to chimpanzee research at the NIH by The Washington Post and ScienceInsider.

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